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      SCHOOL: Anatomy of a Book

From: "J. Godsey" <>


Take a piece of paper, any size, any color, hold it flat. This is one LEAF, containing two PAGES.

[I wanted to say you now hold a BOOK, but five different biblio-references got me five different definitions. Usually the argumentative point was the number of pages that makes up a book. Whatever. I'm not in the mood to split hairs, we'll just say that a book has 'some' pages in it...let the Talmudic-like biblio-scholars think what they may.]

Now back to the leaf: Each of these LEAVES has two sides. The front side, the RECTO which bears the odd-numbers and the back-side or VERSO which are the even numbers. [there's not much call for the word RECTO, so you can forget that right now]

Fold the leaf in half. you should have 2 LEAVES containing 4 PAGES. Fold it in half again and you have 4 leaves with 8 PAGES. [yes, you do have to cut the top two folds, but you get the idea.] Anyone who doesn't have 4 LEAVES with 8 PAGES has to stay after class until they do.

If you fold the whole thing again you get 8 LEAVES with 16 PAGES and again, gives you 16 LEAVES with 32 PAGES, and so on ad infinitum. [just ask the miniature book fans.]

Each stage has a label to indicate how man folds of the paper were involved. A book made with no folds involved is called a FOLIO (Fo), one fold is called a QUARTO (4to, Qto) 2 folds yields an OCTAVO (8vo, Oct), 3 gives you DUODECIMO (12mo), 4 makes SEXTODECIMO (16mo),5 = VICESIMO-QUARTO (24mo), 6 = TRICESIMO-SECUNDO (32mo)...yes it does go on. [there may not be a quiz later, but you don't want to be dull at parties do you?]

The size of the finished book used to depend up on the size of the original piece of paper. [Now it depends upon the shelf size down at Borders.] Most books are OCTAVOS [novels] with QUARTOS [picture books],and FOLIOS [coffee table book]

Whew...I'm glad that's over with.


The folds of paper are commonly called SIGNATURES. All western books used to be made of stacks of SIGNATURES sewn together. [Today only quality books still are. For PAPERBACKS & PERFECT BINDINGS see CHAPTER 5]

The methods of sewing changed over time. Some used TAPE [a fat ribbon] and some used CORDS [fat twine.] Before 1800 CORDS were almost always RAISED, creating bumps in the leather called RAISED BANDS. When machinery started taking over, short cuts were invented. Either the CORDS were sunken into the SPINE or the SIGNATURES were sewn onto a running TAPE. The SPINE, by the way, is the edge of the book that faces you when it's on the shelf. The FORE-EDGE is the part that kids write their names on in Jr. High.

The FORE-EDGE, the HEAD and the TAIL are usually trimmed with a PLOUGH, sometimes it isn't, this sort of book circumcision is optional. Before trimming the ragged edges are called the DECKLE-EDGE. Sometimes it is reproduced mechanically creating the illusion of HAND-MADE PAPER, making it awfully hard to explain to customers that their book is NOT defective, it's STYLISH.

Now that we have SIGNATURES all nicely sewn together & trimmed, with a smooth SPINE. We have a very dull looking book. People like the look of RAISED BANDS, but not the expense. So you put them back on. FALSE BANDS are installed onto the CASE before the CASE is put on the book, but your getting ahead of me.

One of the other affectations that were once practical is the HEADBAND. These decorative little suckers are the woven fabric tacked on to HEAD & the TAIL of the SPINE, to keep the dust out. Where once they were actually SEWN into the spine of the book, (and still may be in HAND BINDING), late in the 19th c. they were replaced by mere snips of striped ticking material, they disappeared altogether on some books. Now they are stips of woven tape glued on, that look cute.

CASE BINDING is when the TEXT BLOCK [read, all the pages] and the CASE are made separately and then put together at the last minute [blame the industrial revolution.] The CASE is made of two BOARDS and a SPINE. The top may be called the HEAD, and the bottom may be called the TAIL. The side of the board that meets the spine is called the HINGE.

OK, we have a CASE & a TEXT-BLOCK, now what? We MULL it over. [ I always wanted to use that] MULL is the cheese cloth/net/muslin stuff that is glued to the back of the TEXT-BLOCK. In a CASE-BOUND book the SPINE must not be solid or it's life will be pretty short. It's a book ,not a russian gymnast, so we give it a HOLLOW-BACK to give it some flexibility. A HOLLOW-BACK may be created with just a paper tube. Squashed flat, one side is pasted to the spine, leaving the other side to be pasted to the CASE.

Take the CASE in your left hand and the TEXT-BLOCK in your right hand, go apprentice with a book binder for seven years, and then glue them together. Simple, no?


If all went well at the end of the last chapter you should have a book like object before you. SPINE, BOARDS, MULL, HINGES...HEY! I can see the MULL! and the BOARDS! That's thoroughly unattractive! that's where the ENDPAPERS come it. Contrary to popular belief their function is not to give you a place to put your name, or paste a BOOKPLATE or write lovely inscriptions "-to Aunt Marge for all her love & support. Love, Dinky" It's to hide all the very extensive work that just went on.

Some ENDPAPERS are made of lovely marble paper, some are that yuccky clay paper, some are just boring white paper. All of them are targets for would be Picassos and Hemingways. [Word to the wise: make sure that signature is not the author's and the BOOKPLATE is not from someone famous, BEFORE you remove them.]


Let's try this again: SPINE, BOARDS, MULL, HINGES, 'ENDPAPERS', SIGNATURES, LEAVES, WORDS....words...words...mon dieux! we forgot the words! I thought you had them! ARGH!! we'll have to start writing now if we ever want to finish.

PAGE 1...the PASTE DOWN ENDPAPER. no, no, don't count that! that's part of the BINDING process..skip that..The FREE ENDPAPER skip that too...go on....

PAGE 1. the HALF-TITLE page {some call it a BASTARD title or a FLY TITLE, whatever...] this has only the book's TITLE on it. My guess is it's so that the binder will know what TEXT-BLOCK he/she is holding, we wouldn't want to bind the wrong book in the wrong CASE now would we?[Gee, like THAT never happens.] This page doesn't have to be printed with it's number.

turn the page

PAGE 2. Usually an ADVERTISEMENT, list of Author's other works, n'such. May be blank, no page number either, basically we don't start numbering until we get to a page you really have to read.

PAGE 3. The TITLE PAGE. This contains the really important information. The TITLE, and the name of anyone who was anyone connected with the book;The AUTHOR(the guy who wrote it), the PUBLISHER (the guy who paid for it),the guy who translated it, the guy who wrote the introduction, the guy who wrote the preface, the guy who drew the get the idea.

turn the page

PAGE 4 the PRINTER'S IMPRINT or more commonly the VERSO. This contains all the 'boring' junk that you & I find fascinating. Instead of WHO, it fills in the WHERE, and the WHEN. [the HOW comes at the end and the WHY you have to figure out for yourself.]

The latest COPYRIGHT date is the most important, 'cause if they add any more words to it they have to get a new COPYRIGHT DATE. Hopefully the PRINTING edition is spelled out plain & simply, FIRST EDITION, SECOND EDITION, THIRD ADDITION AFTER PUBLICATION WITH ADDITIONAL MATERIAL SUPPLIED BY THE SUBJECT'S MOTHER FROM HER DEATHBED CONFESSION.[it hardly ever is] but that's the subject of someone else's class.

Long about 1968, the ISBN (International Standard Book Number), was sometimes added to the VERSO and parts of the LC (US Library of Congress) Catalog Card.

PAGE 5 the DEDICATION PAGE. here's where the AUTHOR gets to say things that make absolutely no sense to us and keeps us guessing until the first or second posthumous biography comes out. It's safe to say that the AUTHOR wishes to thank his wife for not leaving him until the royalties started coming in, his kindergarten teacher for teaching him not to misspell his name and his mother for letting him breast feed until he was 18. turn the page

PAGE 6 The DEDICATION PAGE'S VERSO is usually BLANK, but one can never tell.

PAGE 7, maybe. Some authors have more obscure things they want to communicate to you before you read their work, so they sneak in a little poetry or maxim or quote that almost always makes absolutely no sense at the time and distracts you for at least 4 pages wondering what the hell it has to do with what you're reading. this is called the EPIGRAPH page. [hey, that took me 3 days to figure that out.]

PAGE 8 the EPIGRAPH PAGE's VERSO may also be blank. [alas there go more trees...]

PAGE 9, or so, look, WORDS! after this it gets a little thick. Here there be, lots of other stuff that you didn't pay for but they really thought you should read; the EDITOR's NOTE, the FOREWORD, the PREFACE, the INTRODUCTION, these pages may be numbered in roman numerals so you don't realize exactly how much time your wasting. [My Wheelocks' Latin has exactly 42 pages BEFORE you ever get to Chapter One and some books have more.]

Sooner or later you will get to CHAPTER 1, then with progressive reading you may get to CHAPTER X marking the end of the actual TEXT. After that may lie, an EPILOGUE (or Afterword), for the guy who didn't get his assignment in in time to write the FOREWORD, a GLOSSARY, [with words that you should have known BEFORE you read the book, so it made more sense], an INDEX, so that you can see where you've been, and a COLOPHON. The COLOPHON is the HOW I mentioned earlier, where the little guy in the print room gets his due. This usually tells you what type of type face you have been trying to read for the last 400 pages and who is to blame for it.

The last thing you should see in a book are the REAR FREE ENDPAPER and the REAR PASTEDOWN ENDPAPER, however if the book has led an eventful life it may have come into your hands by way of a library, and one of the ENDPAPERS may be missing. This probably bore the security sticker which would have set of the ALARM when it was stolen.


In the previous centuries, some people who were more financially well off than others, preferred to pick their bindings, for this purpose some books were sold in WRAPS. A paper cover was wrapped around the TEXT-BLOCK. Once the book was sold, the new owner could deliver it to his favorite binder and have it bound to suit his library's decor; Blue or plaid, or faux gold lame' alligator.

More industrialization of the book process leads to more cost cutting measures. Voila the PAPERBACK. Bookbinders call anything with a PERFECT binding a PAPERBACK, regardless of how loud a sound it makes when it hits the wall. PERFECT BINDINGS, are machine cut, unsewn stacks of paper that are glued together along one edge, exactly like a tablet of writing paper; and most often with all the same quality. As you can guess, this book is not constructed for the benefit of generations yet to come. It's limited lifespan hinges upon stress, adhesion & luck.

Almost all the HARDBACK novels produced today are PAPERBACKS with BOARDS instead of thick paper covers. The spines of TRADE or QUALITY PAPERBACKS (larger than 24mo) are less fortunate. They don't have the benefit of a HOLLOW-BACK to take the weight of the pages off the slim layer of paper & glue holding it together. This is where duct tape comes in, but that's the subject of another class....


j. godsey
14 pleasant st
methuen, ma 01844

General bookinding, restoration & repair of 19th bindings a specialty.

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Last Updated: October 22, 1997
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